Struggling to find a suitable job, design graduate Adam Collins founded The Source design studio. He now makes furniture inspired by industrial design and boat building techniques.
Students graduating during the last recession have faced many challenges in finding work and opportunities. While some have struggled, others have tackled the problem head on and started their own business.
Adam Collins graduated from Loughborough University with a degree in sports technology and an ambition to combine art and sport through design. He secured a short internship with Progressive Sports Technologies, a research led product development company associated with the university.
“We were testing fabrics for rugby shirts, doing research for Reebok and working on speculative designs for major brands,” recalled Adam. “When that finished, I took some time out to travel thinking I would get a design job when I got back. What I hadn’t bargained for was the competition. I was competing with graduates who had portfolios, something I didn’t build on my course. My plan had been to work with a big brand, get some experience before finding something with a smaller company. It just didn’t work out that way.”
To build a design portfolio, Adam decided to complete a design project from start to finish.
“I had access to Dad’s workshop – he’s a boat builder – so I decided to start making furniture,” explained Adam. “I did lots of sketches then went straight into building a full scale prototype. I wanted to learn how to build and how to turn my idea into an actual product. Dad gave me advice and help from time to time. ”
Around five months later, Adam had completed his first piece of furniture: the Archie Desk, a glass top sitting on a cantilevered steel arch.
“When I completed the desk, I realised that I needed more pieces to take to interiors shows in order to get sales,” explained Adam. “I needed to build up some stock so decided to build a few pieces in one design. I then developed a bench to go with the desk, followed by the dining table. That was upscaling the design but making sure it would still work at a bigger size. There was a bit of trial and error!”
Initially, Adam found it difficult to source suitable funding, advice and mentors. He eventually came across the Craft Council’s Hothouse programme.
“It was an intensive programme. The course covered planning, time management, budget management, marketing, sales, social media and general business skills. I now have a mentor and a buddy – someone who was previously on the course,” explained Adam. “The best thing was building networks. Having people to talk to and some who were willing to help was great.
I really needed the planning and time management lessons. It’s been very intense for me because I’m always working to complete things in time for shows. Now, I have to implement what I’ve learned so that my time is better organised. It’s almost as if a line needs to be drawn and from that point new practices have to be put into place. Otherwise it’s going to be hard to step out of my old routine.”
Through shows and exhibitions, Adam has started conversations with a number of clients looking to commission pieces.
“It’s taken time to get the first order. You need to find someone who likes it, and is at the right stage of designing their project,” explained Adam. “The feedback has been very positive. Each show is different and you soon work out if it’s the right audience for you. When you find the right show, it’s important to go back so people can see you are still around. Interior designers need to have the confidence to recommend you because it impacts their reputation.”
Currently, Adam is working on pieces the year’s shows and completing his first sale. In time, he hopes to collaborate with other designers and expand into design consultancy.
“One day I want to design sports equipment that you would be happy to have in the house next to the sofa, not stuck in the garage!” concluded Adam.
Adam’s Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
1. Get as much hands on experience as possible. It’s only by making something that you can learn how to design effectively. You have to design for how to make it, as much as how it looks. University is great for learning, but you need industry experience.
2. Find good advice and good mentors so you can avoid simple mistakes. Mistakes are a good way to learn, but if there’s help available take it.
3. I wish someone had told me how long it would take to build up a business. With the internet you think it will be quick and easy, but actually it is hard because you have to get people to the website. In that way it’s just like a shop. You have to think about how it appeals to the press/media in order to get them on board. You also need to consider technical issues such as the right format for images – do they want products on a white background or in a lifestyle setting?